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Why Being a Woman Working in the Gaming Biz Gets Ugly

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The orginal name of Steig Larson's novel Girl with the Dragon tattoo was Men who hate women. If you ever needed proof that they walk among us, just spend a little time in the video game industry, or playing games online, as a woman.

I moved from a career in health care to the video game industry in 2005. It was both wonderful and bewildering to go from overseeing the work of a team of 30 women to a team of 30 men. The cultures couldn't have been more different. Surprisingly, for the most part, I really enjoyed working with the guys -- they were generous with their knowledge, patient in teaching me the ropes, and we had a lot of fun together. But, there was also a tremendous amount of sexism.

But let me be really clear -- this both worked for me and against me. As an attractive women in a male dominated field, I am sure I was able to get meetings with top executives that my male colleagues would have had more difficulty securing. I am not a flirt, I've never been intimate with anyone in my industry, but I know that the very fact that I am a tall blonde woman was a distinguishing trait that allowed me to stick out and be remembered.

The contracts we signed and the games we made were solely based on talent -- but getting the meetings was easier for me. I just want to be clear that there sexism is a two way street, and I'd be disingenuous if I didn't acknowledge that. I experienced it both as a debit and a credit. I saw and experienced lots of negative sexism as well. Many of the studios I've visited are more like frat houses than places of business, and if you are offended by seeing naked breasts all the time, you'd last about an hour in these studios.

I took what I learned from the guys and opened my own studio, Silicon Sisters Interactive, and we are a largely female studio building games for women and girls. The guys who work with us are awesome and fully on board with creating better (read "less stereotyped") content for the female market.

Just when I think I've come to place of being comfortable in the industry, something happens that has made me question what I'm doing here. I don't think there is skin thick enough to not be deeply perturbed by the harassment and hatred directed at feminist media critic and gamer Anita Sarkeesian.

It actually makes me feel sick. Her experience is also just too familiar. For those who think an isolated incident is getting blown out of proportion by a "feminist agenda," let me assure you this is not the case. Sarkeesian is experiencing a hostility that many women in the games industry have experienced to varying degrees for many years. And it's ugly.

What did this woman do to lead to the death threats, the threat of being raped, becoming the target of vile depictions of her in pornographic contexts, and more? She decided to raise money on Kickstarter to create a video series examining the use of "tropes" to depict women in video games. That's it. Perhaps the most disturbing reaction to her work is the creation and dissemination of a video game where you simulate the act of beating Sarkeesian up.

As you click your mouse, her face becomes more and more bruised, bloodied and beaten. Remember -- this woman's only crime was to speak and write about the portrayal of women in video games. Her words -- the fact that she is challenging an industry where misogyny is placidly accepted and displayed -- have upset the status quo so much that the degree of pushback is truly shocking. It is a classic effort to silence someone.

A number of women in the industry have had enough. Sarkeesian didn't deserve this treatment, and we are no longer standing idly by to watch it happen. There are a number of initiatives afoot to counter the "misogyny trolls" who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. Bringing them into the light and requiring them to defend their actions without the veil of anonymity is important.

Men and Women in the industry and beyond are speaking up and taking action against this type of hatred. Stephanie Guthrie of Toronto shone the light on gamer Ben "Bendilin" Spurr, the creator of "Beat UP Anita Sarkeesian," and as a result, Stephanie Guthrie has been the recipient of death threats. Her motivation in exposing his identity via social media is a valid one -- "to hold him accountable as a person for his actions behind an Internet avatar." Rest assured that the women in tech, and the many male colleagues who support us, are not asleep on this one -- we are fighting back, and we will continue to do so. Damn the torpedoes!

 
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